/ 26 September 2023

Nigeria is ‘disappearing’ its people

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File photo: Members of the Nigerian Army Military Police detain a man suspected of smoking illegal substances during a rally for the All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential candidate Bola Ahmed Tinubu at Teslim Balogun Stadium in Lagos on February 21, 2023 ahead of the Nigerian presidential election. (Photo by Michele Spatari / AFP)

By 2020, the International Committee of the Red Cross was handling 23,000 missing persons cases in Nigeria, its largest caseload in Africa.

Nigeria alone accounts for more than half of the continent’s missing people. A report this month by HumAngle, a Nigerian nonprofit media organisation covering humanitarian issues, has concluded that many of these missing people were victims of extrajudicial killings and arbitrary arrests by state security forces.

HumAngle created a database of nearly 3,650 missing people in the Chibok, Gwoza, Bama and Askira-Uba areas of northern Nigeria. Collaborating with Washington-based New Lines magazine, HumAngle’s investigations editor Kúnlé Adebajo tracked stories of missing people by interviewing eyewitnesses, using geolocation data, reviewing leaked documents and visiting sites.

Adebajo told The Continent that at least 200 missing people “were arrested by security agents, mostly soldiers”. HumAngle also obtained figures that show the military took more than 3,320 bodies to a morgue in Borno State between 2013 and 2022. “This doesn’t include the estimated hundreds of bodies taken to mass burial/dumping sites,” Adebajo said.

The investigation found evidence of the unlawful killing and mass burial of terrorism suspects in breach of international law. It concluded that through arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention and extrajudicial killings by security forces, the state is a major contributor to Nigeria’s growing problem of missing persons.

Little wonder, then, that a database for missing persons that Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission promised to set up in 2015 is still not operational. Or that, as revealed on Monday by the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances, Nigeria was nine years late in submitting a report to the UN on its progress in legislating against and preventing enforced disappearances.

The Nigerian government has not officially responded to the HumAngle investigation.

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